Friday, 27 April 2012

Elephant No. 208: Cubomania

Today feels like a Surrealist day, so I thought I'd try cubomanie—also called "cubomania", which to me sounds more like a boardgame than an artistic practice.

Cubomania is a form of collage, in which one or more pictures is cut into squares, with the squares then reassembled in a sort of fugue state to create a new image. Usually the image is meant to be random and subconscious, but there is another strain of cubomania that allows for the rearrangement of the squares as you choose. How convenient for me.

Cubomania was first used by Gherasim Luca, a Romanian Surrealist poet and theorist. He invented the technique with artist Dolfi Trost, and is credited with forming a Surrealist artist coalition in Romania, just prior to the Second World War. He later fled Romania for Paris, where he often collaborated with French Surrealists such as Max Ernst and Jean Arp. In 1994, expelled from his apartment at the age of 80, he committed suicide by jumping into the Seine.

Indochine, 1960
Gherasim Luca (1913–1994)

Cubomania is usually done, as the name suggests, with squares, although at least one cubomania work has been made with triangles. It is also sometimes seen as a political statement, since the recombined image can be used to "subvert the enslaving message" of advertising and "free images from repressive contexts." Er, okay.

Using cubomania to arrange soundscapes has also been suggested. I wonder if that would sound any worse than my music composition elephant.

For today's elephant, I decided to be political and subvert a bunch of magazine images. Also, I didn't feel like printing out elephant images to cut up. These are the pages I chose, ripped from a couple of glossy magazines destined for the recycling bin. I chose images with large blocks of colour and minimal words.

To cut them up, I trimmed off the edges with a tabletop rotary cutter, then cut them into 1.2 cm (1/2-inch) squares. I thought about 2.5 cm (1 inch squares), but to get any kind of recognizable elephant, I thought I probably had to go smaller. For backing, I used a 28 x 35.5 cm (11 x 14-inch) sheet of artist-quality bristol board.

I started by laying out a few squares, then realized I needed a bit of a sketch to guide this whole process.

I generally chose the squares based on tone, although colour also played a role. I didn't really care what was pictured in the square, although I seem to have chosen primarily squares with very little obviously recognizable image. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing to a cubomania purist.

As I went along, I ran into difficulties with uneven squares. I tried to use this to my advantage by leaving a bit of white space around everything. In the end, however, I rather liked the eccentricity of the shapes. It probably appeals to my inner anarchy or something.

As you can see from the closeups below, I chose things mostly based on whether I instinctively liked the way they looked. I suppose that's somehow related to the original Surrealist concept, although I would hesitate to claim that this is a work of proper cubomania.

This is a very easy process, if a bit time-consuming. It took me about half an hour to cut up the squares, and it took about an hour and a half to glue everything down. If you made bigger squares it would obviously be faster, and if you weren't trying to make something representational, it would also be faster. But I'm pretty happy with this first attempt at cubomania, and may even try it again sometime.

Elephant Lore of the Day
One of the funnier stories about elephant behaviour comes from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. According to Daphne Sheldrick, a young male elephant called Olmeg began suddenly having tantrums when it came time to wean him.

Every day, little Olmeg would pitch a fit, but no one could figure out why. It turns out that he had noticed that the other orphan elephants—not yet ready for weaning—were receiving four bottles of milk, while Olmeg was only receiving three. He could count well enough to feel that he was being cheated, and began behaving like a spoiled brat.

The problem was solved when Ms. Sheldrick was called in. Knowing that it is very important to treat all elephants alike, she suggested that keepers fill a fourth bottle with water for Olmeg. When Olmeg was fed alongside the other babies, he saw that he now had four bottles lined up as well, and the tantrums stopped.

Olmeg at 18 months, October 1988.


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